A Master Wordsmith
Bilbo Baggins shuffled tiredly down the hall, intent on his waiting bed and eager to banish all thoughts of the marauding dwarves who lounged noisily across every surface of his ransacked den. He was fairly certain that he would still be able to hear their sonorous snores from the far side of his hobbit hole, and even through his firmly closed solid oak door.
"Can't sleep?" a light voice asked from the shadows.
Bilbo jumped and swung his candle towards the source of the voice.
"Me neither," continued Kili, who spoke as though Bilbo had answered in the affirmative instead of squealing and clutching at his chest in alarm. He was lounging against the circular windowpane, gazing out across the moonlit hills and fields of the Shire with a wistful expression.
Bilbo, who was very tired indeed after the excitement of the day, was nevertheless loathe to leave a guest on his own, especially when he seemed as forlorn as this young dwarf.
"Um, well, I suppose not." he lied politely.
"Glad to hear it!" Kili spun about with an eager grin. "The lads go to sleep far too early for me."
Bilbo wondered where this mad dwarf found all his energy. He hadn't stopped cavorting and leaping about since he had barged his way through the front door. Bilbo was exhausted simply watching him.
Kili paced about the modest foyer, studying the various portraits and samplers that hung on the walls. His eyes darted about with the manic curiosity of a magpie, thought Bilbo, alarmed for the safety of his many belongings. Kili took a picture down off the wall to study it, turning it over in his large hands to check the back for some inscription or title. Bilbo hurried to his side and pried it gently from his grip.
"Yes, that's my father, and the only portrait of him that I have, I'm afraid." It was as close to a reprimand as the polite little hobbit could muster after so many years of manners being drilled into him, and the subtle rebuke was lost on Kili, who continued to paw over various objects. Bilbo felt his left eye beginning to twitch and the start of a ferocious headache.
"Where are all your weapons? D'you train much?" Kili asked in rapid fire succession.
"I don't have any weapons, and no, I don't train at all."
Kili stopped in his tracks, he was so surprised. "But aren't there any great hobbit warriors?"
"Not as such, no. But I once saw Farmer Elbas, who lives down the lane, fight off an absolutely massive rabbit from his carrot patch with a fry pan. It was as tall as you if it was an inch."
Kili laughed. A few interrupted snorts from the sleeping dwarves in the next room quickly silenced him, but his eyes continued to dance merrily.
"I'm sure we dwarves can do better than that. I've seen Thorin take down a fully grown Warg with only a stump," he countered, stretching the truth only slightly; He hadn't actually been there to see it, but the tale was true enough.
"Is this a contest between our people?" Bilbo frowned at Kili's boastful manner.
"I don't think that it would be much of a contest," the inexperienced young dwarf replied doubtfully.
Bilbo bristled. He could tell that Kili meant no harm, and that his comment was only the result of his tactless and frank nature, but it still rankled his hobbit pride.
"I'm sure I could beat you at something," Bilbo protested a bit testily.
"You? Beat me? At what, a duel?" supplied Kili hopefully. "Archery? Sparring?"
Bilbo considered. "Wordplay, master dwarf. I was thinking of a word jumbling game."
"Oh!" said Kili with some surprise. He smiled warmly. "Aye, then, Mr. Baggins, I expect we'll soon find out!"
Bilbo smiled slyly and set off to locate all the game pieces that they would need for their contest. Kili wandered the room while he waited, curiously poking and prodding at the many knick-knacks and books that covered most of the available surfaces. He earned a dirty look on Bilbo's return when he was caught perplexedly fondling Great-Great-Great-Grandmother Merryweather's silver jaw-harp. Guiltily, he quickly replaced the mysterious artifact and slipped into an open seat at a small round table.
Bilbo joined him and opened the game board to present it to Kili. "You're familiar with this game?" he asked.
"Oh, yes! We played it all the time, Fili, Thorin, and I. I expect that at the time Thorin thought it might be good to stretch our minds a bit, for he had no very great love of the game himself."
Bilbo was amused. "And did it work? Has your mind been stretched to the art of wordplay?"
"I'm no slouch," said Kili smugly, taking the small, velvet pouched filled with little wooden tiles that Bilbo had passed to him. That, Bilbo thought, was probably as close to any actual modesty as he could ever expect to hear from this curious dwarf.
"Though," Kili added with a mischievous grin after a moment's consideration, "I'm afraid I can't say as much for Fili."
Bilbo rolled his eyes at this display of fraternal infidelity. Kili passed him back the bag, still grinning, and Bilbo selected seven tiles. Propping them up on a tiny filigreed brass rack, he paused to study them intently.
"This is a very nice set." said Kili, admiring the scrolling metalwork of the stands and the intricate carvings that decorated the board. "Where did you get it?"
L-O-C-A-L-E. Bilbo laid out his word on the center tile. Kili nodded approvingly.
"My father made this board himself." Bilbo answered with pride. "He was a great carver, and could whittle just about any creature that a young hobbit could set his heart on."
Bilbo gestured to a narrow shelf that had managed to escape Kili's earlier foray into his personal possessions. The shelf was covered with tiny wooden animals, some rough and half chewed, and almost all missing various horns, ears or tails.
Kili smiled. The figures had obviously been created with loving care and played with quite enthusiastically. The most worn of them all, he noted, was a tiny, twisting dragon, it's mouth open wide in a fireless roar. A brief frown creased Kili's face as he looked back at the simple hobbit who sat across from him waiting expectantly for him to take his turn.
C-A-N-D-L-E, Kili laid down, building off of the 'C'. "I had a tiny wooden bow when I was a bairn. Shot Fili in the back with it once, but all the points were blunted. He walloped me good for it, too, with his wee wooden sword. Served me right, shootin' him in the back like that. I could've at least had the decency to wait 'til he turned around."
Bilbo chuckled at the image that presented itself. For some reason he could only picture the brothers grown as they were now, chasing each other about and brandishing wooden implements of doom and destruction. He'd wager that there hadn't been many unbroken vases or crockery with those two running around. Not that Thorin seemed the type to have such unnecessary trinkets lying needlessly about, he thought, glancing at the dwarf king as he slumbered by the fire in the great room.
L-A-R-D-E-R. Bilbo presented his word for Kili's acceptance. Kili nodded and Bilbo was surprised when he continued to recount his childhood.
"The best part," Kili mused wistfully, "was the stories we heard. We would hide behind the great oak barrels in the larder and listen as they traded tales of old. Thorin used to tell of the great treasure under the mountains. Hills of gold, weapons and jewels high enough to bury the great dragon in his lair. We heard of the great battles between dwarves and Orcs, the slaying of fearsome Wargs... Some of them were only legends, I'm sure, but many were true. Our line has served and fought bravely for thousands of years." Kili said proudly, a fierce light in his eyes.
They continued the game in companionable silence for a time, Kili edging slightly ahead in points. After a while, Bilbo said, "So... You like treasure. And fighting." He was trying to get his head around his strange guests and their odd ways.
Kili frowned uncertainly, suddenly afraid that he might not have given a very pleasant or accurate portrayal of his people. He felt himself to be an ambassador of sorts between his kind and these peaceful hobbits, and wanted to be sure that he was the cause of no misunderstanding.
"It's not the fighting," he clarified slowly, wanting to make sure that he got things right. "Or the treasure. Not really. It's the adventure. The- The romance of it all, of not knowing what's to come next, and... and..." He trailed off helplessly and Bilbo was surprised to see that Kili was blushing madly behind his long, brown hair.
"Go on," Bilbo prompted, curious to hear what could be so important to Kili that he was embarrassed to say it aloud.
"Well, it's seein' what you're worth, isn't it?" Kili finished quietly.
Bilbo reflected on his new friend's answer. So this young, impulsive dwarf considered himself to be untried and saw this quest as an opportunity to prove his worth.
"But you know what you are in your heart without having to prove it, don't you? You don't think your friends think any less of you just because you've never killed a foe in an actual battle?"
Kili shrugged evasively and changed the subject.
"Well, I can see why you wouldn't be tempted to join our ragged troupe on a perilous journey full of wakeful nights and empty bellies. If I had a home as fine as this, you wouldn't be able to budge me from it for all the treasure in the world." He looked about the cozy hall with satisfaction.
Bilbo was silent, and Kili reconsidered the implications of his words. He had made it sound as if they were some band of homeless misfits to be pitied. He felt his face grow hot once more and cleared his throat awkwardly.
He busied himself with his tiles to avoid Bilbo's sympathetic gaze and emerged with a pleased smirk. He laid his next word on the board.
"There!" he announced. He crossed his arms as if to say, "Well, that's that!" and leaned triumphantly back in his seat.
Bilbo craned his neck around to peer at the tiles. "'I-J-O-L-I-T-E'. That's not a word!" he protested.
Kili frowned. "'Tis, it's a kind of rock. Dwarves know their minerals, you know."
"We'll soon see. I challenge your entry!" Bilbo scurried off down the bowed hall and returned shortly after, weighed down by a massive, leather-bound book. He hefted the heavy tome onto the table and both he and Kili erupted into fits of coughing and sneezes as a cloud of dust plumed out from between the wrinkled pages.
"Ijolite, Ijolite,... Ah! It says here... Well, alright, it says here 'Ijolite, an igneous rock found only in the deepest strata of the western half of the Misty Mountains.' Oh."
Kili smirked knowingly.
"My apologies. Fourteen points to you, master dwarf." Bilbo mumbled, and he marked the score chart in Kili's favor.
"You can call me Kili, you know," said the dwarf as he selected six new tiles. His letters held few possibilities and he pursed his lips in annoyance.
"Alright, so aside from great adventures, what is it that you do?" asked Bilbo conversationally. If he was going to be up all night he might as well learn something while he was.
"You know, hobbies, interests, things that don't involve killing other things..."
Kili was quiet for a moment. It seemed the only way to shut him up was to ask him a personal question. "Well, I do like music," he said hesitantly. "And so does Fili. We can play a few reels and whatnot."
"You do? On what?" Bilbo asked, intrigued, but Kili had fallen quiet on the subject, perhaps feeling that he had betrayed some terrible weakness. "Well, I think that's wonderful." Bilbo said to fill the awkward silence. Really, it was nice to know that there was more to these dwarves than their prevalent odors, noise, and appalling table manners.
It was Bilbo's turn and he went back to studying his last tiles. "Aha!" he exclaimed, and he laid down the word 'pans'."
Kili frowned, disappointed. He liked a good challenge. "'Pans'? That's it?"
Bilbo gloated smugly and pointed out Kili's error. "Not just 'pans', but 'up', 'on', and adding the 's' to 'liver' makes 'sliver'! That's fifty-eight points after you take into account the triple word square being used twice!"
Kili paled slightly. "Well done," he stammered, determined to be gracious despite his defeat. "I would never have seen that one."
Bilbo beamed under the young dwarf's praise. "Well, I suppose I've had more time to practice since I don't spar, duel, or shoot," he reasoned humbly. Kili grunted, gratefully accepting Bilbo's kind attempt at allowing him to lose with his dignity still intact.
"It was well played, master hobbit. I haven't a word left. Your game." He smiled ruefully and laid out his remaining tiles, a 'W' and a 'Z'.
Bilbo decided that he liked this dwarf quite well. You could tell a lot about a person from how they won or lost a game. "Just Bilbo, please. And you were a more than worthy opponent."
Kili rose and bowed, belatedly striving for the dignity befitting his position as one of Thorin's closest kin. Bilbo thought that his face might crack under the strain of holding back his youthful energy and took pity. Without any mockery, Bilbo matched the inexperienced young dwarf's stiff bow and said, "Well met, Kili. I wish you all a safe and uneventful journey and success in your quest."
Kili lost his tenuous grasp on formality and quietly laughed, an impish twinkle in his eye. "Not too uneventful, I hope." He clasped Bilbo companionably around the shoulders then stumbled blearily into the parlor to bed down in his accustomed place near Fili among the other sleeping dwarves.
As Kili's soft snores joined the others, Bilbo reflected with some confusion on their earlier conversation. Kili's boundless enthusiasm was infectious, and had called up notions and dreams of adventure that had long been buried beneath the timid exterior of the placid hobbit.
Bilbo dithered undecidedly in the doorway for a moment, studying the formidable dwarves as they whistled and snorted through their beards. They had fallen asleep almost as soon as their heads had touched the ground, even though they were in a place that was strange to them, and Bilbo realized sadly that they must be used to it. He frowned in consternation and turned away, bound at last for his own familiar, snug little bed.
He was so caught up in his thoughts that he missed the low chuckle and the red glow of embers as he passed back through the darkened parlor. Bilbo continued down the hall and Gandalf, hidden in the shadows, chuckled softly once more. He drew on his pipe and squinted into the dwarves temporary sleeping quarters. Unless he was very much mistaken, they would have their burglar yet. All that had been needed was a bit of time and someone with a way with words.
Gandalf smiled complacently and blew a series of smoke rings. They floated lazily up to the ceiling before turning to into tiny ships that sailed away on invisible waves. Who would ever have thought that that person would have turned out to be Kili? Life was full of little surprises.